Title (JP): Ryza no Atelier 3: Owari no Renkinjutsushi to Himitsu no Kagi (ライザのアトリエ3 〜終わりの錬金術士と秘密の鍵〜)
Title (NA): Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key
Platform: PS4, Switch, PC (Steam), PS5
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games (JP), Koei Tecmo America (NA)
Release date: 23 March 2023 (JP PS4/PS5/Switch), 24 March 2023 (NA/EU, PC)
Official website (EN): https://www.koeitecmoeurope.com/ryza3/
Official website (JP): https://www.gamecity.ne.jp/atelier/ryza3/
Atelier Ryza 3 is the latest installment in the Atelier series from Gust, and the third and final installment in the Atelier Ryza sub-series, which is the best-selling sub-series of the Atelier franchise.
A direct sequel to Atelier Ryza and Atelier Ryza 2, Atelier Ryza 3 is also the first game in the Atelier series to have a returning protagonist retaining their protagonist role for a third time: Sequels have traditionally had previous protagonists returning in supporting roles, and having one retain their role was something pioneered by Atelier Ryza 2.
Taking place only a year after the events of the previous game, Atelier Ryza 3 starts with the sudden appearance of several mysterious islands near to Ryza’s hometown of Kurken Island and leading to it being destabilized. Thus Ryza, reunited with her old friends and making a few new ones along the way, investigates the islands, which leads to her also journeying to various regions around the world.
Gameplay-wise, Atelier Ryza 3 is unsurprisingly very similar to Atelier Ryza 2. The biggest and most noticeable difference is how, while previous games in the Atelier series generally consisted of independent interconnected maps, Ryza 3 foregoes this in favor of massive open world-like fields. The game is not a true open world, as each region is its own field, but these fields are massive nonetheless: The area around the secret hideout from the first game not only returns but is also expanded, with the new Kark Islands area also fitting in, and all of this is presented as a single open-world-esque field (Kurken Island itself is a separate map, however). Equipment such as the Air Drop which allows the player to go underwater (albeit only in specific areas) and the grappling hook and monster riding from 2 also return and are used in exploration, and Ryza can also tame and use different kinds of monsters with different abilities in 3.
Battles are almost identical to how they were in 2, with the only noteworthy change being the addition of the keys (more on this later).
Synthesis is likewise mostly identical to how it was in 2, but with the essence system removed and replaced with keys (again, more on this later). But while the system itself remains the same, the execution is significantly different, particularly in how the player obtains new recipes.
The first game had the player mostly unlock new recipes by getting to specific nodes in existing recipes, and the second split this between nodes and unlocking recipes via a skill tree. Atelier Ryza 3 has the majority of important recipes, including the ones for all the attack items, equipment, and upgrade materials unlocked via the skill tree, and this is without a doubt the most frustrating part of the game: Unlike 2, which showed silhouettes and costs for skills the player did not yet have access to, which would allow them to plan ahead, Ryza 3 completely hides everything that is not immediately accessible to the player, and unlocking recipes (and skills) is thus an extremely vexing process.
For example, the player might head in one direction on the skill tree and unlock recipes for new equipment, but have no idea how to unlock the recipes for the materials needed to make said equipment. This might not have been a problem if the SP needed to unlock skills was abundant, but it only becomes abundant at the very end of the game: SP feels extremely limited in the early to mid game, and even getting just one skill can feel like a huge investment, which might not even pay off.
Since the player gets SP for using new recipes, spending SP only to find that one cannot craft the item yet because a different recipe is needed to craft the materials needed for it first, or expanding the skill tree in a direction which does not yield new recipes at all can result in the player simply having limited ways of obtaining SP. On the other hand, crafting the high level items available in the late game yields tons of SP, to the point that one can fill out the entire skill tree and have an exorbitant amount of SP left over to boot. As such, the skill tree feels extremely unbalanced and badly-implemented. Most of the problems can of course be circumvented by simply looking up the full skill tree in a guide, but it still feels pretty ridiculous that the game would hide such important information from the player like this.
The ability to duplicate items does return, and Ryza 3 also has gathering points with infinite amounts of high-value types of water, allowing the player to easily obtain massive amounts of gems which can be used to mass produce anything, making it easy for someone who understands how the systems work to trivialize all endgame synthesis by mass producing philosopher’s stones.
One of Ryza 3’s biggest new features is of course the keys that are also mentioned in the title, and they are featured prominently both in the story and in the game’s systems. Keys are obtained from landmarks (which also serve as fast travel points) or from enemies, and come with random effects that can be used on the field, in battle, or in synthesis. Field effects are varied but mostly affect materials you gather, and battle effects are temporary buffs. Synthesis is where the keys really shine: Keys can do things like add points of a specific element to all nodes, boost the quality, increase the number of items created, or even add a new element to the result, and using keys that meet certain requirements can add even more bonus effects. With the right keys, the player is given the freedom to fill nodes that require materials they do not have access to, add different elements to materials to make it easier to craft other items, which makes synthesis all the more fun.
That being said, however, synthesis does mostly feel like Ryza 1 and 2’s: More streamlined and simplified compared to many of the older Atelier games. While completely filling out a recipe and getting all the effects wanted it does feel satisfying, it still feels like you are simply following blueprints, rather than creating something yourself.
Aside from being used for their effects, keys are also used to open blocked-off areas and special locked chests in the field. These blocked-off areas are typically inconsequential, but the special chests give the player random items, with a chance of giving the player better items if using a better (higher rarity) key. The rarest items they can put out are recipes, and some of these recipes are necessary for clearing certain quests, and the game gives the player no hints about where or how to obtain them, which can be extremely frustrating. There are no other ways to obtain these recipes either.
Ryza 3 does give the player more movement options to traverse the massive fields, in the form of more mounts and shoes that allow one to slide down slopes. Unfortunately, the mounts are not particularly interesting, fun to use, or even all that fast. Not being able to gather materials while on a mount means that one has to dismount whenever seeing something to pick up, which is quite cumbersome. Of the three mounts, the two which are unlocked later have abilities that allow the player access to new areas in the field, but (perhaps because they are optional) these abilities are severely underused, with the areas one can unlock being few and far between and also very underwhelming.
In the end, this reviewer found the primary use of the mounts to be to keep enemies away (enemies run away from the player when mounted) – But this is not an insignificant use of them, given how the fields are frequently overpopulated with enemies that will aggressively chase after the player even when the player is dozens of levels above them.
The new ability to slide down slopes, unlocked by crafting the corresponding equipment, is quite fun to use. Unfortunately it is also hard to control without a claw grip, as one has to hold down a face button making it hard to steer with the right stick while in use, and since it can only be used going down slopes it is very situational. In the end, this reviewer just ended up pining for the magic broom from Atelier Firis.
Speaking of Atelier Firis, the open fields of Ryza 3 are certainly reminiscent of the huge maps in Firis. But while Firis used its maps to portray a long journey, Ryza 3’s maps do not really feel like they are put to good use. Some quests might point you to one corner or the other, but most areas are just completely superfluous. And Firis, and especially the DX version, also had more interesting movement options like the aforementioned broomstick.
Despite the huge open fields, exploration in Ryza 3 does not really feel as satisfying, as one can simply walk to most areas and see that there’s nothing particularly interesting to look at. Some areas are locked behind the mounts’ abilities or the need for certain equipment like the air drops and grappling hook returning from Ryza 2, but exploration typically yields little more than landmarks and the satisfaction of filling out the world map. The air drops, especially, have been key to finding really wondrous areas in some previous games, so the way they are so completely underutilized in Ryza 3 stands out all the more.
The game sees the return of writer Takahashi Yashichirou of Shakugan no Shana fame, who was also involved with the first game in the series, and the story is very satisfying compared to those of the first two games, following a more well-defined structure and heading towards a definitive climax. While some plot twists may seem a bit underwhelming due to how they have been overused in similar media, this does not detract from how said twists still fit into the story and serve to make it an enjoyable one.
The story’s theme of growing up is very prominent, and surprisingly even applied to some of the older characters such as Empel and Lent’s father. Dangling plot threads left over from the first game are resolved as well, making Ryza 3 really feel like a grand finale to the trilogy. The new party members are also nice additions who do contribute to the story in one way or another, sometimes by acting as foils to show how Ryza and the gang have grown since the events of the first game, or simply by being in the know about things and thus being able to provide exposition.
It is thus very unfortunate that Ryza 3 leaves Serri and Clifford from Ryza 2 out of the story almost entirely: Including them, even if just as NPCs, would have done a lot. And though Patricia does return, she herself gets relatively little attention, acting mostly as a plot device to advance Tao’s character development.
This reviewer lamented the lack of side or postgame content in 2, and 3 is improved drastically in that regard: There is a lot in the way of side quests, with some involving taking on powerful bosses. Unfortunately, these bosses are linked to the quests, meaning that they do not respawn and cannot be fought again once the quest has been cleared. Additionally, since the majority of Ryza 1’s areas return in 3, it really stands out when one heads to a place where an optional boss used to be only to find nothing there.
One might even say that Ryza 3 has a bit too much content in the way of side quests: While character and world quests have story content, many of the normal quests have almost none at all, and amount to little more than speaking to an NPC and being sent on a fetch quest. These, and also the random quests which pop up while one is exploring, are mostly unrewarding and unsatisfying. Furthermore, it is frequently hard to tell which of the normal quests have important content, with some of the mounts hidden behind what seem to be more uninteresting fetch quests.
This reviewer also lamented the short length of the first game, and was very pleased with how Ryza 2 had much more content, and Ryza 3 continues in this vein, with this reviewer taking 60 hours (10 hours more than Ryza 2’s 50) to clear it. The presence of strong optional bosses also means that there are actually enemies that warrant the player making full use of the synthesis and battle systems, even on normal difficulty.
The soundtrack is, as usual, fantastic, with a lot of remixes of tunes from the previous games to drive home how this is the grand finale of the trilogy.
Another minor but notable addition is how all characters can get wet after taking a dip or when it rains: In Ryza 2, only Ryza would get wet, which really stood out during cutscenes when it was raining. (This did unfortunately result in this reviewer encountering a bug where the party appeared as wet in all of the cutscenes in the final dungeon despite the lack of any reason for them to be so.)
Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key is overall a fantastic sendoff for the Atelier Ryza series. The game continues Ryza 2’s effort to cut down on the Atelier series’ simulation aspects and turn into a more conventional RPG, and does succeed in doing so while also retaining enough of the Atelier series’ identity.
The Good: A massive world, lots of content, a great story, fantastic music, fun new characters (especially Kala) and refined gameplay make for a really great entry in the Atelier series.
The Bad: The exclusion of certain characters, a bad skill tree, and a bit too much padding at times detracts from the experience a bit.
Conclusion: Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key further improves on Ryza 2’s formula, and succeeds in turning into a great conventional RPG with Atelier elements as a result.
This review was written based on the Japanese release of the game, and may not reflect changes made to versions released in other regions.